Washington Grown Video Shoot – Behind the Scenes

On October 3rd, 2018, the television show “Washington Grown” filmed on Dale Gies’ farm Dale Gies is a potato farmer outside of Moses Lake, WA. Dale plants mustard before planting potatoes as a way to control nematodes instead of using commercial fumigants. These are some clips from the day of filming.

Washington Grown Video Shoot

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Notice: Recommended Standard Methods for use as Soil Health Indicator Measurements

The Washington State Soil Health Committee recently commented on The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Notice: Recommended Standard Methods for use as Soil Health Indicator Measurements.

If you would like to comment, you can do so by following this link.

Here is the letter:

Continue reading “The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Notice: Recommended Standard Methods for use as Soil Health Indicator Measurements”

North Central Washington Cover Crop Tour October 4th, 2018

Hear from farmers about cover cropping and grazing in dryland wheat. There will also be updates from RMA, NRCS, and WSU on soil health and animal nutrition.

The Field Day will take place on October 4th, 2018. The tour will start at Cavadini Partnership in Bridgeport and end at the Double J ranch in Okanogan. Following the tour, there will be beverages and a BBQ.

Please RSVP by September 22nd. To RSVP, email rachel@okanogancd.org.

 

Soil Committee is Giving Away Trees in San Juan County

The Washington State Soil Health Committee has started an education and outreach program in San Juan County. The project aims to distribute, at no cost, surplus native bare-root trees that would otherwise be destroyed at the end of the nursery season. The trees will go to landowners in San Juan County who are doing shoreline restoration, wetland recovery, or native tree planting. So far, hundreds of bare-root native trees have been provided to three San Juan County farms:  Smiling Dog Farm on Orcas Island, Horseshu Farm on San Juan Island, and Ken Davis’s farm on San Juan Island.

Download our flyer for more details on how to plant and care for your native tree.

Did you know?

Trees are the longest-living organisms on Earth.

Trees capture and store more energy than any other organisms on Earth.

What will a native tree do?

  1. Provides fresh oxygen for you to breathe.  One acre of forest absorbs 6 tons of carbon dioxide and exhales 4 tons of fresh oxygen (USDA), cleaning our air and combating climate change.
  2. Cleans air by removing small particulates, reducing symptoms of asthma and other respiratory diseases.
  3. Filters groundwater by root chemistry. Tree leaves and needles transpire, creating clean, tree-filtered water, cooling and cleansing the air.
  4. Shields other living creatures, including you, from solar heat, blocking ultraviolet rays that cause cancer.
  5. Aids in recharging groundwater supply by preventing rain runoff from surrounding soils.
  6. Produces aerosols from some trees, like willows, that fight cancer, while other trees produce antibiotic aerosols.
  7. Reduces depression and anxiety. Visual exposure to trees has produced recovery from stress in five minutes, as measured by blood pressure and muscle tension, according to research at Texas A & M University.

What will your native tree do for your soil?

  1. Trees transfer solar energy to the soil, through photosynthesis, to feed the microbes that give soil life, that makes “living soil.”
  2. Trees prevent soil erosion in the broad area of their rooting zone, providing sub-surface drainage for rain runoff and holding the soil in place.
  3. Trees prevent large-scale flooding, which washes topsoil away.
  4. Trees produce organic material that enriches the soil, such as leaves and decomposing branches.
  5. Trees fix nitrogen in the soil.
  6. Trees work symbiotically with the fungal mat that lies under the ground, giving soil structure, and supporting all terrestrial life in mysterious ways.

What other benefits will the ecosystem receive?

  1. In San Juan County, planting trees on the shoreline produces humic acid which stimulates the growth of plankton in sea water, thereby enriching the food web in the Salish Sea.
  2. Trees provide habitat and food for birds and other animals. Your wildlife will love you, especially if you leave dead trees standing. Birds and other nesting creatures regard a dead snag as premium residential housing, as well as five-star dining on resident bugs.

 

NASA and the Washington State Soil Committee Agree Biochar are “Superstars”

In an article on the Daily Press website, NASA Langley scientist touts biochar: as an ‘environmental superstar.’

From the article:

“Biochar can be made from common organic waste material — from chicken and cow poop to sticks and brush from your yard. It can make environmentally unfriendly synthetic fertilizers obsolete. It can trap nutrient runoff before it pollutes places like the Chesapeake Bay. It can even filter out toxic heavy metals from water.”

The Washington State Soil Health Committee has funded two grant projects featuring biochar. One of the biochar projects is in San Juan County and the other is in Mason County. Below are the summaries of each project.

San Juan Conservation District:
Continuation of biochar project begun in 2016. Following up on the original six-farm test plots, in which biochar was added to soil, the yield will be evaluated in the spring of 2018. In addition to the test plots, biochar kilns were designed and provided to forest landowners on each of the four ferry-served islands. Workshops were offered on each island to demonstrate how to make biochar from forest waste. Online instructions are available for making biochar at home.

Biochar was added as an alternative to the slash burns in the County’s draft Solid Waste Management Plan.

The San Juan Conservation District also starts a new three-year project to introduce no till-direct seed practices to the county, including use of cover crops to improve soil health and limit use of chemicals.

Mason County Conservation District:

The goal is to fill the knowledge gaps on the effects of biochar in the Mason County region. The project will involve measuring the effects of biochar on the balance of pH, the retention of nutrients, the amount of soil microorganisms in local soil types, and crop yield.

Washington State Soil Health Project Reports 2017

These are the first reports for the eight new contracts for 2017-2020 and for the continuation in 2017 of the first round of projects, which received additional funding. The results are encouraging and, in some cases, fascinating. By demonstrating positive outcomes, these results will promote better soil practices in our state.

Palouse Rock Lake Conservation District:
A new project to measure and compare moisture retention in cover crop fallow and direct seed fallow.

This study is a home run. By comparing moisture retention every four inches up to 48” in side by side cover crop fallow and direct seed fallow, the study has these results so far:

  1. No net loss of moisture in cover crop fallow as compared to direct seed fallow
  2. Decrease in soil temperature in cover crop fallow, which benefits soil organisms
  3. Suppression of weeds without herbicides
  4. Reduction of soil compaction, which enhances moisture absorption and retention
  5. Reduction in soil erosion
  6. Early signs of possible increase in yield

San Juan Conservation District:
Continuation of biochar project begun in 2016. Following up on the original six-farm test plots, in which biochar was added to soil, the yield will be evaluated in the spring of 2018. In addition to the test plots, biochar kilns were designed and provided to forest landowners on each of the four ferry-served islands. Workshops were offered on each island to demonstrate how to make biochar from forest waste. Online instructions are available for making biochar at home.

Biochar was added as an alternative to the slash burns in the County’s draft Solid Waste Management Plan.

The San Juan CD also starts a new three-year project to introduce no till-direct seed practices to the county, including use of cover crops to improve soil health and limit use of chemicals.

Underwood Conservation District:
Completion of original 2015-2016 project to monitor soil moisture in test plots in an orchard, using a control plot, a plot with compost, and a plot with compost and mulch

Results so far show no significant difference in moisture. We are waiting to hear if there is any difference in productivity (yield). We have questions about the 2017 workshop: how may attended, who were the presenters, and what did they present?

Washington Environmental Council:
Continuation of Nisqually Community Forest project which aims to create a template for sustainable forest practices in Pacific Northwest forests.

  1. The project has linked sustainable forest practices with improvements in both water quality and quantity
  2. DOE’s Clean Water Revolving fund was changed to allow sustainable forest projects including forest land purchases
  3. First certified Carbon Project with 520 acres saved from clear-cutting with Microsoft buying the carbon credits
  4. Set up protocol and step-by-step process for creating and selling carbon credits to offset the cost of land purchases
  5. Demonstrating that by growing trees longer, e., longer harvest rotations, the forest is more resilient and stores more carbon over time; older forests also provide better wildlife habitat

    Whitman Conservation District:
    Experiments with various cover crops in the Palouse to identify those best for fall and for spring and to determine whether pelletized compost adds extra yield or other ecological benefits. This will be evaluated in the spring of 2018.

Washington State University: Soil Health Field Day
Soil Health Field Day in Davenport at the experimental farm. Well attended with dozens of farmers and conservationists. Highlighted soil differences between no-till and conventional test plots.

Washington State University:
First year of three-year study of soil characteristics in irrigated agriculture in Eastern Washington.

  1. 60 soil samples were studied from 30 growers to establish a baseline.
  2. Some of the results were surprising, for example, that the amount of soil fines was inexplicably low in many sites.
  3. Several “exemplary soils” were discovered, which were also surprising. More research will be done to discover the secret of those exemplary soils
  4. This study includes a process of evaluating which soil health measurements are of value, and which are not.

“We Are Legion”

“We are legion.” Mushrooms, or Fungi, are everywhere.  They are an essential component of healthy soil. As old as the oldest plants, and far older than animals, fungi occupy their own branch in the tree of evolution. Without fungi, green plants would perish. They restrict the length of life and prevent abnormal reproduction of both plans and animals. Without fungi, neither plants nor animals would survive. We have much to learn about how to live productively with our fungal friends, but one novel partnership has proven successful in the Swiss Alps.

As reported in Earth, January/February 2017 at p. 36, mycorrhizal fungi used to inoculate plant roots on steep, eroding, gravelly hillsides stabilized the hillsides within a few years of inoculation. It turns out that fungi can be an eco-engineering tool to stabilize steep slopes.

As Paul Hallett, a soil scientist at the University of Aberdeen Scotland, reported, the study shows that “there are benefits to using a fungal inoculum in restoring a quite degraded alpine environment.”  The next step is to establish more field sites to test a “wide assortment of environments exploring the influence of both plans and microbial diversity on stabilization.”
The Washington State Soil Health Committee hopes to find a good field site to demonstrate an eco-friendly way to mitigate slide hazards, especially on sites disturbed by construction, logging, or other human activities.

A Year of Soil Health Projects and Progress

Five state-wide soil health projects funded by the Washington State Soil Health Committee (“SHC”) in 2016 have achieved excellent results. In late fall of 2015, the Washington State Soil Health Committee awarded grants to four organizations to conduct soil health field trials across the state. By September 1, 2016, reports were in for all projects, with initial evidence of positive findings.

These projects explored soil health issues in diverse geographic areas, from the forests of the Nisqually River watershed to small farms in San Juan County, from a vineyard and orchard in Klickitat and Skamania counties to dryland farming in the Columbia Plateau, as well as pasture lands across the state. New strategies for improving soil health were tested, documented, and are now being published and shared with farmers, ranchers, and resource conservationists.

Preliminary results in San Juan County show that biochar, when added to crop soils, significantly increases total carbon content as well as enhancing soil nutrient and moisture retention. When the crops are harvested in the spring of 2017, all indications are that there will be a significant overall improvement in plant productivity.

In Klickitat and Skamania counties, soil health has been significantly enhanced by adding a thin layer of compost to orchard and vineyard soils along with a cover crop to a degraded pasture. These soils have been tested using the Haney soil heath score and are measurably improved by the addition of compost. The recovery of soils in the degraded pastureland has been remarkable to date and will be monitored and tested in the spring of 2017.

In the Nisqually River watershed, forest soil health has been found to benefit in many ways from longer rotations and attention to conservation of topsoil. The Nisqually Community Forest will serve as a statewide model for forest management, with increased focus on the importance of managing forest soils through best management practices.

Finally, Foster Creek Conservation District developed a draft strategic plan and purchased equipment to instigate a long-term Soil Testing and Monitoring program within the Douglas County region. This new program commences in spring 2017 and will assess changes in the soil for participants in FCCD’s Direct Seed program. Two soil health workshops were held for local producers – one in June (in collaboration with Okanogan Conservation District), focused on cover crops and direct seed, the second in November targeting crop rotation. A copy of the Symphony of the Soil Educational DVD Collection was also purchased, and is available for loan to Douglas County producers.

To achieve these excellent results, the SHC worked in partnership with soil scientists and other experts from WSU, UW School of Environmental Sciences, NRCS, Nisqually River Council, Nisqually Land Trust, Nisqually Tribe, Northwest Natural Resource Group, Microbial Matrix Systems, Inc., Domain Pouillon Vineyard, Dirt Hugger, Forage, DOE, as well as the four projects managers, the Foster Creek Conservation District, the San Juan Islands Conservation District, the Underwood Conservation District, and the Washington Environmental Council. The SHC is funded through a partnership agreement between the Washington State Conservation Commission and NRCS.

Final Grant Reports: San Juan Islands Conservation District

One of WA State Soil Committee’s 2016 grants was awarded to the San Juan Islands Conservation District. The scope of their project involved demonstrating the benefits of biochar in drylands as well as in irrigated agriculture fields.

Their field work included the successful application of biochar to six different study sites on four different farms. For outreach, they developed a 10 page report, an online multimedia engagement platform, as well as handouts for farm and forest landowners.

For their results and final conclusions, a full report can be viewed here, and the web-based media representation of their project is available here. To see a full presentation of this and the other four WA State Soil Health Committee grant projects, don’t miss the WACD Annual Meeting.

Soil Committee to Attend WA Association of Conservation Districts Annual Meeting

Each year, the Washington State Soil Health Committee awards a number of grants for projects in our state seeking the sustainable advancement of soil health. Many of these grants are awarded to Conservation Districts around Washington State. Truly, Washington’s Conservation Districts make invaluable partners in the soil health revolution. The WA Soil Committee is proud to attend the WA Association of Conservation Districts Annual Meeting this November to meet with the people doing amazing things in conservation districts around the state. We will also be presenting on this year’s five grant projects. The Annual Meeting will be held November 28-30 at Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine, WA. For more information and to register for the conference, visit the WACD website.